Finding and Creating Qualified Candidates
By R. Andrew Hurley, PhD
PackagingSchool.com for AICC’s BoxScore
Published April 2, 2018
I was recently browsing LinkedIn, and I searched for the job title “packaging engineer,” just to see what would come up. The results astounded me. Only about 4,500 people with that job title appeared. When I think about all the ways packaging touches products worldwide, it just doesn’t compute that there are only 4,500 packaging engineers out there. So I decided to do a little more digging.
A quick search on Indeed.com came up with more than 80,000 open positions for packaging engineers. I guess that means it’s a great time to be graduating from one of the nation’s few packaging programs, but maybe not a great time if you’re trying to hire a packaging engineer to launch a new product and get it into consumer hands safely and quickly. At a time when people have more consumer product choices than ever before, these are concerning statistics. As demand for packaging engineers continues to grow, this educational chasm will only get deeper.
So, to help visualize this issue, I created a graphic to understand the current skills gap in our industry.
That’s a gap of 75,500 job openings as of January 2018. As the graphic dramatically illustrates, the number of packaging engineers in the world barely covers a fraction of the employment opportunities that are out there. What most people don’t realize is that many of the job openings for a packaging engineer require only a bachelor’s degree—any bachelor’s degree—mainly because there are only a few schools that offer a formal packaging science degree. And according to our friends over at Indeed.com, 100 percent of those open jobs pay $60,000 per year or higher, and 20 percent pay more than $90,000.
Why is there such a large skills gap in an industry that pays so well? Employers need another layer of confidence—proof that candidates understand the business acumen of the packaging industry. A packaging science degree was the de facto standard, followed by years of hard-earned experience—until now.
If we haven’t met yet, please allow a moment of introduction. I graduated from Clemson University in South Carolina three times and was recently made a tenured professor there. In my professional network, Clemson is known for two things—a burgeoning football dynasty and an excellent packaging science program that graduates highly sought-after packaging engineers. I’m also an entrepreneur with two relatively new packaging businesses, one of which helps the AICC education team ensure online packaging education is available to all its members.
Over a decade of working in the packaging industry and in the packaging academic space, I began to see the need for more accessible packaging education options. There are a myriad of reasons why the traditional higher education path isn’t a good fit for everyone, so I set out to build a brand-new curriculum in an exciting new way.
After logging seven years of hard work, conducting 400 professional interviews, and hiring a full-time staff of 12 creatives and instructional designers, the Certificate of Packaging Science was created and licensed through the Research Foundation at Clemson University. The result is a highly interactive, modern, enjoyable, 100 percent online program to give professionals the tools they need to be successful in their packaging career, whether they’re just starting or experienced and need a quick refresher. A portion of tuition goes back to Clemson to support their continuing efforts to raise the tides of packaging for everyone. Heck, the program is even licensed by the state of South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education.
Employers are seeking hires who meet minimum HR requirements—typically a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience in packaging—and the Certificate of Packaging Science covers the topics in depth. It’s an easy-to-use online system that is comprehensive across packaging industries, providing quickly digestible microlessons that are less than 10 minutes apiece.
We are at a point where we know there is an issue when an astounding 80,000 real jobs exist, and only a handful of folks have the educational credential to fill them. If you can’t find qualified candidates, maybe it’s time to invest in creating qualified candidates. AICC and The Packaging School are here to help.
Andrew Hurley, Ph.D., is an associate professor of packaging science at Clemson University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.